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Army publishes guidance about leases affected by DOD travel restrictions

By Jim Tripp | U.S. Army Soldier Legal Services | April 9, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

The U.S. Army has published guidance to assist Soldiers with permanent change of station orders who are affected by the current Department of Defense COVID-19 travel restrictions and face potential conflict with landlords.

All Army Activity, or ALARACT, Message 033/2020 explains how to seek help if a landlord won’t negotiate about a Soldier’s inability to PCS.

The ALARACT also includes annexes with easy-to-understand guidance and sample requests from a Soldier to a landlord. Soldiers may obtain a copy of ALARACT 033/2020 from their command or a legal assistance attorney.

Section 3955 of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, allows for termination of leases (auto and dwelling) upon receipt of certain types of military orders, including PCS or deployment orders. The orders must be for a period of at least 90 days.

The DOD Stop Movement Order, however, is not considered a PCS order for purposes of the SCRA.

There is a way around this. If you have signed a lease at a new duty location, but are prevented from moving due to the Department of Defense Stop Movement Order, consult with a legal assistance attorney. They can help you prepare a letter to the landlord asking them to voluntarily allow you to either terminate your lease or suspend rent payments until you can move in.

If the landlord will not agree, then work with your legal assistance attorney and your command to seek new orders. The new orders should order you to your current duty location for at least 90 days.

Once you have your new PCS orders, your legal assistance attorney can assist you to then validly terminate your lease under the SCRA. If done properly, the lease termination will be effective 30 days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due.

If you have already requested to terminate your lease at your present duty station, but are not able to move due to the DOD Stop Movement Order, contact the landlord right away to see if the landlord will agree to voluntarily extend your lease.

If the landlord refuses, you may need to conduct two moves – one from your current residence to a temporary residence, and then again to your new duty location when PCS orders are re-issued to you.

There are provisions in the Joint Travel Regulation that authorize a short-distance move when vacating local private-sector housing due to an involuntary tour extension.

Unfortunately, if you have obtained a home loan to purchase a home at your new duty location, but are now prevented from moving due to the DOD Stop Movement Order, there is no protection under the SCRA. The SCRA pertains to leased, not mortgaged, premises. Soldiers facing this situation should still consult with a legal assistance attorney to discuss their options.

Soldier Legal Services at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston is located at 2422 Stanley Road, building 134, at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and can be reached at 210-808-0169.